The Academy Programme – come on and finish what you started

Stand by your buzzers – who said “All pupils deserve the chance to go to a good school where they can fulfil their potential and I believe these new academies will help us achieve this…”?  No? It was Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families Ed Balls just six months ago in February 2009, in a DCSF press release announcing the Government’s intention to fund six more of the Government’s new Academy schools.

Fast forward six months to Saturday’s pronouncement from Sir Bruce Liddington (see the Guardian’s coverage here), former senior civil servant responsible for the ground-breaking programme, who said “…it’s anticipated that there will be cuts in the amounts of money that will go towards new academies that are opening…the signs are that we are going to have to tighten our belts.”

It’s interesting to note that the Government, whose “Every Child Matters” policy sought to join up children’s services with wrap around care and extended services in ‘schools that never sleep’, makes specific reference to funding for these service being given direct to Academies – see the link to the DCSF website here – and even states “It is important that academies are funded to enable them to deliver the extended service core offer to their children, parents and the local community.”

There have been mixed reviews of this “transformational” initiative since its inception back in 2002.  It was intended to provide a more relevant model of education and skills for those in “disadvantaged” areas.  Personally speaking, those I have visited in Kent seem to have an atmosphere of real excitement among both teachers and pupils alike; irrespective of the reason, attainment seems to be rising and the greater sense of pride and purpose is almost palpable.

So what now?  It appears that the Government intends to honour its commitment to existing Academies which have been agreed – and with the opening today of the new Skinners’ Academy in Tunbridge Wells, that’s something to be grateful for.  Clearly the Government will have to work a miracle to deliver the four hundred new Academies promised in its original vision, particularly if they’re now looking to build them “on the cheap”.

But the real tragedy is for the dedicated teaching staff whose dreams of  better learning facilities will now be dashed, and more importantly the thousands of pupils across the country who will lose out in yet another half-delivered, headline-grabbing, divisive “first come first served policy which somehow never quite got properly finished – again.

Isn’t it time Government – at least as far as our young people were concerned – finished what they started?

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